Plane Propelled By Ionic Wind

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

MIT engineers have developed an aircraft propulsion system with no moving parts. A team led by Steven Barrett, an MIT professor of aerospace engineering, flew a five-pound model the width of a gymnasium using “ionic wind” to maintain flight after an initial push using bungee cords. The first flight occurred almost a year ago. After crashing the aircraft, which has a 15-foot wingspan, into the gym wall, the team rebuilt it and flew nine more times before publishing a paper in the journal Nature. The electrically powered system is silent and emission-free.

The ionic wind is created by an electric field on a fine wire that agitates free electrons to start a chain reaction that causes ionized air molecules to rush toward a “collector.” The result is a physical movement of air as if it had been pushed by a propeller or turbine. It’s nothing new but the technology and hardware for making it light and powerful enough are now becoming available. Barrett said the big hurdle was a power converter that boosts battery voltage. Barrett told the Washington Post that scaling the technology for useful airframes will be a challenge but he also noted that aviation itself had humble beginnings. Drones might be the first practical application. Nature produced the video below explaining how it all works.

view on YouTube

Comments (5)

1) I think our Military is about 20 or 30 years ahead of this. Would explain many of the strange sightings at night with no sound, buzzing sound, strange lights.

2) It's not emission free. Yes, it doesn't emit anything at the time. But it took emissions to make the batteries.

3) I wonder if it works in the rain? Or snow? Anyone who's flown in dry snow knows about St. Elmo's fire. Wouldn't that short out this circuit?

Posted by: Mike P | November 24, 2018 3:19 PM    Report this comment

The "first flight" video was a catapult launch of a poor glider, NOT a powered flight.
Why the hostility of what actually works?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 25, 2018 4:15 PM    Report this comment

This technology is nothing new. I did some experiments with it back in the late '60s, trying to make it work for vertical ascent. It would work, but only with an electrical cable that ran back to the large power supply on the workbench. I guess they have figured out how to miniaturize the electrical system enough to get it to propel horizontal flight.

Oh, and it is not exactly emission free. It emits the lovely smell of ozone from the high voltage wires that create the ion propulsion.

Posted by: John McNamee | November 27, 2018 3:59 PM    Report this comment

The MIT group wrote a paper that specifically stated that the Version one craft did not fly, only this recent version. In either case neither would be even close to being first!

The. only ion propelled aircraft that can both take off and fly with onboard power is called, the "Self Contained Ion Powered Aircraft," The craft has an approximately 20 times higher power to weight ratio. It also currently flies for several minutes. The patented invention has been well proven and verified to predate the MIT ion propelled glider. It can operate exactly as a fixed wing aircraft or as a VTOL aircraft. You can paste the name of the invention into Google to see the videos and website.

Posted by: Ethan Krauss | February 12, 2019 1:27 AM    Report this comment

The MIT "Version One" ion propelled glider did not fly according to the first paper they did in review of it!

The first and only ion propelled aircraft to both fly and carry its power supply is called the "Self Contained Ion Powered Aircraft." Please see Google for video etc.

Posted by: Ethan Krauss | February 12, 2019 1:35 AM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?

Register

Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration